University of Western Ontario: Western receives $2M to extend program supporting women experiencing intimate partner violence


Western has received $2 million in federal funding to extend and test a successful intervention program designed to support survivors of family and gender-based violence.

Today, Peter Fragiskatos, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue and Member of Parliament for London North Centre, along with Arielle Kayabaga, Member of Parliament for London West, announced the investment, which will allow Western to extend and continue testing the Intervention for Health and Living (iHEAL).

iHEAL is a health promotion intervention developed to improve the safety, health and well-being of women living in diverse life contexts who have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV).

The project is led by Marilyn Ford-Gilboe, women’s health research chair in rural health and a professor in the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing. It is delivered by registered nurses who have completed specialized education in IPV, and work in partnership with survivors to address short-and long-term needs.

Over a 10-year period, Ford-Gilboe and colleagues at the University of New Brunswick and the University of British Columbia have tested and refined the novel technique in research conducted in partnership with the London-Middlesex Health Unit in London, Ont., a New Brunswick community health centre and a B.C. Indigenous health and healing cooperative. This research has consistently shown the benefits of iHEAL, including improvements in women’s life quality, confidence, mental health and safety, have remained up to one year after iHEAL ended. It has also shown to be safe for women from diverse backgrounds and feasible to offer.

“Women who have experienced partner violence and its ongoing effects are not a ‘lost cause,’” Ford-Gilboe said. “Our iHEAL research shows that appropriate, tailored support can have short and longer-term benefits for women, including for their mental health.

“But effective interventions don’t necessarily translate well into real-world settings without careful planning. With this funding, we aim to better understand how iHEAL can be offered as a successful and sustainable program across different types of service settings and in ways that are inclusive for women of many backgrounds.”

In continued collaboration within the three diverse community health settings, iHEAL-educated registered nurses will support approximately 400 women who have experienced intimate partner violence over the next two years.

This project will address diverse issues affecting the women’s safety, health and well-being in a way that is tailored to the woman’s needs, priorities and contexts, with the nurses drawing on local supports and services to complement and extend, rather than duplicate community resources.

The funding comes at a critical time as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively impact children and families at risk of violence due to disrupted services and additional emotional stressors affecting caregivers, including parental stress, depression and problematic alcohol use.

“Our government is committed to supporting survivors of gender-based violence, as well as families experiencing or at risk of violence, so they can get the help they need to heal and build better lives for themselves,” said Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health. “Recognizing that the pandemic continues to impact children and families at risk of violence, the funding announced today will work to bridge gaps in services, while making it easier for people across the country, including racialized and 2SLGBTAAIA+ peoples, to access the culturally relevant, linguistically diverse and effective services they need. This investment is an important step forward, but we know we have more to do, and we will continue to take action to help prevent family violence and support those who have been affected.”

Dr. Alex Summers, medical officer of health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit commented on the lasting impact of the project.

“Through our participation in the implementation of the iHEAL program, Middlesex-London Health Unit staff members are witnessing positive transformational change, as individuals transition away from violence and abuse, towards safety and well-being,” Summers said. “These are interventions that promote overall health, healing and recovery.”

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